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The Joy of Music


Samuel Burstin conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France during his prize-winning performance at the Evgeny Svetlanov International Conducting Competition in Paris, June 2014.
Hello! I’m Sam Burstin. I play the viola and conduct. I joined the Philharmonia viola section in 2005, and within a couple of years I had played Brahms’ brilliant Symphony No. 2 several times, with conductors including Christoph von Dohnanyi and Lorin Maazel. Hours of meticulous rehearsing (especially with the Doc), wonderful performances, ears and eyes on stalks – I thought I knew the piece pretty well.

But then I bought a score. And as I went through it bar by bar, I saw so many things I had never heard, even with a great orchestra and great conductors. Just before the end of the piece there’s an amazing fortissimo scale played by the cellos, basses and bassoons that I never knew was there until I saw it printed on the page, because the rest of the orchestra is busy blasting out A’s in various octaves. I had sat right next to them! I wanted to hear that scale. And I thought Brahms would want everyone to hear it too. He wrote it, after all!

I realised that any performance, no matter who the conductor or orchestra, is merely an interpretation of the score. Perfection doesn’t exist. And therefore, why worry too much about getting it ‘perfect’? People will always have different opinions on interpreting music. What’s far more important to me is finding the true spirit, or message, of the music. If you get that right, people will love it regardless of mistakes.


The Paradisal Players at St Alfege in Greenwich, January 2015.

I decided to set up an orchestra in 2011 to try and find the spirit of happy music making. I called it the Paradisal Players, so the acronym is PP, as I think a real pianissimo is the most magical thing in music. We raise money for charities, and the tag line says it all: heavenly music, brilliant musicians, wonderful causes. It’s one three hour rehearsal on the day and then play. Players are a mixture of professional colleagues and amateur friends, all of whom give their time and expertise for free. Of course we go over things in rehearsal to improve imperfections here and there, but the main focus is on communicating the joy of the music. People play their hearts out and love it, and the audience feel that. They are wonderful concerts.

Here’s a clip from the end of our Brahms Symphony No. 2. You can hear that scale, and feel the joy.

Our next concert is on Saturday 18 June at St John’s, Smith Square, where we’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Otakar Kraus Music Trust, an amazing charity that uses music to help people with emotional, physical and behavioural problems. Otakar Kraus was a wonderful bass baritone from Prague who made his home here in Britain, so we’ll have music by Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Dvorak that reflects his life – opera and travel.

Sumptuous Slavs! Celebrating 25 Years of the Otakar Kraus Music Trust

18 June at 19:30 at St John’s Smith Square (SW1P 3HA)

Mozart: Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, K 492
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto no. 3 in d minor, Op. 30 with Ana Sinkovec Burstin, piano
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 in e minor, “From the New World”, Op. 95
Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance by calling the SJSS box office at 020 7222 1062

Find out more on Encore here.

James McAulay

Encore Co-Founder & CEO. Cellist, pianist, singer and aspiring guitarist.

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